New research from Forum for the Future and four healthcare giants is calling on businesses, policymakers and the financial community to accelerate progress against the growing threats to human health from the climate crisis.
Today, Forum for the Future, Bupa, Haleon, Reckitt and
Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) introduced updated guidance for companies on how to urgently address increasing threats to human health from the climate crisis.
Titled Managing co-benefits for climate and health — 2022 update: how the private sector can accelerate progress, the new report updates guidance originally published in November 2021, and continues to emphasize that planetary health and human health are intrinsically linked. A healthy planet is a key foundation for a healthy population; and human health cannot be advanced without fresh water, clean air and a stable climate. The report aims to enable businesses to leverage their climate and health strategies in a way that simultaneously accelerates change across these interconnected challenges.
“Simply put, humans cannot thrive on a dying planet,” says Forum for the Future CEO Dr. Sally Uren. “All over the world we are seeing heat waves of unprecedented severity, droughts destroying crops and food supplies, escalating air pollution, devastating wildfires and floods. [Last year], we highlight the urgent need for the private sector to act with integrated net-zero strategies capable of delivering climate and health co-benefits. Since then, some progress has been made – but not enough. This latest guidance will enable key actors to act faster and go further.”
Distilling the findings of over 5,000 multi-disciplinary papers and developing with input from businesses, NGOs, scientists, philanthropists and government advisors from all over Europe, Africa and the USAthe report recommends that:
All businesses can: reduce their emissions and contribute to cleaner air; invest in clean, green, safe buildings (new or retrofit); educate employees and customers about action they can take themselves; consider environmental and health outcomes while designing their products; use their influence to advocate for a more socially just and ecologically revitalizing economy; working with their suppliers on carbon reduction, the protection of biodiversity and the development of climate adaptation strategies; engage academia and others to develop new business models capable of delivering not only profit, but also social and environmental benefits; and educate their stakeholders about integrated risks of the climate and health crises.
Investors and philanthropists can: recognize that taking a proactive approach to tackling climate-induced health impacts will realize significant economic and health co-benefits, while also enabling smarter risk management; educate themselves about the risks of inaction; and identify where health can support and strengthen existing market initiatives.
Policy makers and the public sector can shift how public money (including subsidies and procurement) is spent – moving beyond ‘do no harm’ to net positive goals. They must also integrate their approaches to tackling health, climate and nature challenges to promote greater return on investment.
Beyond its focus on the role of the financial, political, investment and philanthropic community, the report also provides a series of detailed recommendations for the food, technology, built environment and healthcare sectors – recognizing their potential for a disproportionate positive impact.
The impact of climate change on health can be both acute and chronic. According to the
CDC, severe weather events such as floods, heat stress or drought can have an immediate and devastating impact on health; while gradual increases in temperature can have longer-term impacts, exacerbating both non-communicable and infectious diseases.
Meanwhile, many of the drivers of climate change are also health issues in their own right. Air pollution from fossil fuel power plants, transportation and industry incapacitates millions every year; while deforestation damages water supplies, depletes soil nutrients and increases the risk of infectious diseases. A 2021 NRDC report estimates the financial cost to our health from fossil fuel-generated air pollution and climate change to exceed $820 billion in health costs every year
in the USA alone.
“Tackling climate and health together also offers an opportunity to address structural inequalities,” said Dr. Hours continued. “Those communities most at risk from climate impacts are often those with less access to health care. Designing climate adaptation solutions that also offer health benefits can contribute to better equality for all.”
Healthcare companies have a key role in informing other companies about the impact of climate change on human health, and influencing them to act and take appropriate action.
“Healthcare companies have an important role to play in addressing the climate crisis,” said Glyn Richards, Group Director of Sustainability for Bupa Group. “We not only have a responsibility to reduce our own impact on the environment, but also to play a leadership role and influence others to make changes as well. We know we have a lot of work to do, and we can’t do it alone; therefore, we are working with partners to accelerate action. We hope that this report will encourage and support others to do the same.”
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 13 million people die each year from environment-related health risks; about 99 percent of the world’s population breathes polluted air; and in 2020, 1 in 4 people did not have access to safely managed drinking water in their homes. Action against hunger estimates more than 3.1 billion people do not have access to enough safe and nutritious food.
“The connection between the planet’s health and human health can no longer be ignored,” says David Croft, Global Head of Sustainability at Reckitt. “Businesses can help by investing in research and innovation to try to ensure we stay one step ahead of growing health threats, from water scarcity to insect-borne diseases, so brands and products continue to help people protect themselves. The only way to solve these interconnected crises is by working together to drive solutions at scale.”